In an interview, Tuesday morning on the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed Dr. Louis DeGennaro, Ph.D., president and CEO of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) to the newsmakers line.
During the third hour, Dr. DeGennaro described his efforts as the leader of LLS which offers financial aid to cancer patients in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. He explained how the society has answered patient’s financial woes instigated by COVID-19 through the creation of a successful financial aid program that assists blood cancer patients immediately.
Leahy: We are joined now by Dr. Louis DeGennaro. President and CEO of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society who is doing great work here in treating blood cancers. Dr. DeGennaro you wanted to talk to us a little bit with dealing with cancer during the COVID-19 crisis. Welcome to The Tennessee Star Report.
DeGennaro: Thank you, Michael. Thanks very much. Yes, it is a particularly important time for cancer patients to be thoughtful. Because of their disease and because of their treatments while they are not at a greater risk of catching the COVID virus. And they are at greater risk of getting sicker from it if they do. We really need to be cautious and be observing the recommendations of the CDC and local health officials. Making certain they are washing their hands, cleaning surfaces, and avoiding crowds and so on.
Leahy: So we know that in normal circumstances if you had a diagnosis of cancer that is going to have a very significant financial impact on the patients and their family. But right now the economy is having great difficulty. Unemployment is up. GDP will be down. What is your Society of Leukemia and Lymphoma doing to help these kinds of patients at this time?
DeGennaro: Michael, we hear every day from patients who are feeling the financial impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize that the situation has imposed a greater burden than cancer patients already have.
We have always been there for patients providing free of charge support and information for blood cancer patients and their families and caregivers. They need that more now than ever. But we stepped up in a special way in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to create the LLS financial aid program to provide immediate financial assistance to blood cancer patients.
Eligible blood cancer patients will receive an individual 250 stipend to help with non-medical expenses. this includes food, housing, utilities, transportation, and other needs that they may have. It’s got to be clear that patients don’t have to have been a COVID-19 diagnosis.
We are here to help cancer patients with this financial boost right now. I hope that they’ll take advantage of that. I can tell you that we stood up this fund on the first of April and already have distributed more than two million dollars to more than 8,000 patients all across the United States including Tennessee.
Leahy: How big is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and how long have you been around?
DeGennaro: Gosh. We are the second-largest cancer-focused not for profit in North America. We were founded 70 years ago by a father and mother who lost their 16-year-old son to leukemia. And they sent us on a direction to fund research to find cures for these diseases. And to be in a position to help patients. And we have been true to their goals and their objectives for 70 years now.
Leahy: I had never heard of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society until about nine years ago when my late mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She actually went into remission and died from other circumstances a couple of years ago. I’ve been very impressed with all the work that you’ve done and appreciate all your efforts. How did you Dr. Genarro become involved and become president of this organization?
DeGennaro: Michael, it’s very kind of you to recognize the success that we’ve had. LLS has invested more than 1.3 billion dollars into cutting edge research. And we have the development of growth treatments for these diseases. And we have we haven’t quite found a cure yet but we’re getting closer and closer.
I’m glad to hear your mother went into complete remission. That’s the story I like to hear. For me, tomorrow is my 15th anniversary with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I came out of the pharmaceutical industry to run the research program at LLS.
Leahy: You raise money through contributions is that right? Or do you have other sources of revenue?
DeGennaro: Our revenue is completely from donations from private individuals and a bit from corporations as well. This will be a particularly challenging time for us Michael I have to be honest with you. We raise most of our money through events like walks called Light the Night Walk, marathons, and cycle rides and so on. In these challenging times, it will be difficult to conduct these events. Many have been canceled and postponed.
But we’ve got tens of thousands of supporters across the US. I’m betting on their generosity even in these challenging times to help us fund things like the financial aid program. We kicked it off with five million dollars of funding that came from a very generous set of corporate donors. I see the need to be much bigger and raise 10 million dollars. I hope that volunteers and supporters out there can see their way. Every dollar counts and I hope they can see their way in this time when patients really need it.
Leahy: By the way, if you would like to donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society go to www.lls.org and you can look in the upper left-hand corner of the screen where there is a big red donate button. I think when people are trying to determine what they can do and if they are ok financially themselves but a lot of people aren’t these days as you know Dr. DeGenarro.
But if you are ok and you want to do something that will make a difference you can go to www.lls.org and make a contribution. Are those contributions dedicated specifically to helping financially current patients or does it just go to the general fund right now?
DeGennaro: They are dedicated to everything that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society does to support patients. That includes the research component and the development of new treatments and all of the patient-facing work that we do.
The free support and information that we have for patients. We have a group of college nurses and social workers who speak with patients every day and guide them to the right treatment. This is the kind of thing the dollars go to in addition to this financial aid fund.
Leahy: Where are you headquartered? Are you up in the Westchester, New York area? Is that where your headquarters are?
DeGennaro: Our national headquarters is in Westchester, New York. We have offices all across the U.S. including a great chapter in Nashville, Tennessee. But we have a footprint across all of the United States.
Leahy: So if you are in Westchester County which is one of the counties that’s been hard hit by the coronavirus. Have you personally or anybody on your staff experienced the difficulties associated with this big pandemic up there?
DeGennaro: You know we have Michael. I’m calling you from my home office in Connecticut. We closed our offices about three weeks ago. The most important and my number one priority as CEO of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the health and well being of the patients that we serve and my team/staff across the US.
We raised the flag about this quite some time ago in late February and we made the decision that was in the best interest of our patients and our staff to close our doors and get people working from home. Today we have employees all in their home offices trying to raise money and continue to push research and helping patients every day.
Leahy: Dr. Louis DeGennaro, president and CEO of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. You can donate today at www.lls.org. Dr. DeGenarro, thanks so much for joining us today.
DeGennaro: Michael, thank you very much. Have a good day.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Dr. Louis DeGennaro” by Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.